|Law enforcement: the good, the bad and not so bad... but we’re going to build a bigger jail anyway|
|Written by Erika Schmidt Russell|
|Wednesday, March 13, 2013 10:27 PM|
Let’s start with a tip of the hat to the Aurora police officer who helped a woman change her tire recently on U.S. 50. I’ve seen officers with Aurora, Greendale, Lawrenceburg and the county help motorists before, but it never ceases to make me happy to see them helping the public.
Their job is a lot more than solving crimes. Officers help the taxpayers everyday in ways beyond the crime function on a regular basis. I’ve seen them give motorists jump starts, once in the Dunkin Donuts parking lot where the officer in question had purchased coffee - throw that doughnut stereotype out the window.
They are out risking their lives in ice and snow, as was the case last month when an officer narrowly avoided serious injury or death on Interstate 275. Indiana State Police and Ripley County Sheriff’s deputies had to deal with a horrific crash that took the lives of three teenagers last week.
In those everyday actions, they also are preventing another accident, preventing crime and in some cases help solve crimes.
When residents see them as human, as good guys, then some people think twice about committing a crime. They may decide to call a tip-line to provide information about another crime that was committed.
That being said, not all crimes are equal either. William Gajdik, who shot a man and shot at others is a serious criminal. The guy with marijuana in his glove box, maybe not so much, especially if he wasn’t actually smoking it before or during driving. There are stereotypes or “profiling” at work in some of those arrests.
The difference in profiling in Dearborn County vs. many other places is the profiled victim is most likely white and of a certain socio-economic status. As I’ve heard more than once said those are low hanging fruit, easy arrests making easy numbers and an easy conviction.
Is there a drug problem in Dearborn County? Yes, as is in most places across the country. Is the answer a felony conviction, disenfranchising a person and making much harder to dig himself or herself out of a hole? No. Is the answer holding people in jail for non-violent crimes or sentencing them to prison terms? No.
Losing money? But spending on jail
The Indiana General Assembly has legislation before it that would change the amount of riverboat taxes Dearborn County receives. This is not sitting well with county officials.
Yet, the county has committed itself to an expansion of the county jail, to the tune of more than $10 million dollars.
That jail expansion is for 144 beds, which would bring the total up to 360 beds. That’s more beds than counties larger than Dearborn, and almost as many as counties twice our size.
Dearborn County’s population is 50,511.
For example Floyd County, across the river from Louisville, Ky., has a population of 74,000 with a 234-bed jail. Clark County, adjacent to Floyd County, has a population of 111,000 with a 426-bed jail.
According to the Indiana Department of Corrections, Dearborn County had 301 felony admissions to state correctional facilities between January 1, 2012 and December 31, 2012. In contrast Clark County had 124 admissions.
Vanderburgh County (Evansville) had 438 felony admissions, and its population is 180,000. Marion County (Indianapolis) with a population of more than 900,000 had 3,390 felony admissions.
With a population of just over 39,000, Harrison County, adjacent to Floyd County, had 76 admissions to the IDOC last year.
Clark, Floyd, Vanderburgh and Harrison are all Ohio River counties, all have riverboats in or near them, yet all have much lower felony conviction rates than Dearborn County.
While the metropolitan statistical area population for Louisville is smaller than Cincinnati’s, that doesn’t quite add up to the much lower felony conviction numbers and much higher population of the Indiana counties adjacent to or included in the area.
Do we really need to spend more than $10 million of Dearborn County’s rainy day money on a jail? Is it not really self-fulfilling prophecy? If we build they will come - or maybe if we build it someone will find a way to fill it up by arresting more people and making sure they stay there for the longest possible time?
And if we build it won’t we still be on the hook for heating and air conditioning and staffing?
After almost 18 years of reporting in Dearborn County, I’ve heard and seen the argument “it’s not going to increase costs” or “it’s not going to increase taxes because we’re retiring this debt” many times.
That argument’s been proven wrong many times - just look at the addition at East Central High School a few years ago - operating costs put a crimp in the budget. That’s been straightened out, but it wasn’t easy.
Instead of building a bigger jail, we need to look at expanding drug and alcohol abuse treatment programs, and I’m not talking about programs that force a person to incriminate himself or herself and remain in jail. We need to take a holistic and realistic approach.
But it’s too late for stopping the jail, the late Jim Hughes spoke against it often. Dan Lansing is the lone voice against the jail expansion left on county council.
So, my fellow Dearborn Countians when your county road slides down the hill or a bridge fails and there isn’t money in the rainy day fund, don’t complain.
Just go look at the jail, and be content with the thought that you’re safe from the person who had less than 30 grams of marijuana in his car’s glove box and was pulled over because his beat up 1996 Grand Prix with a Lynyrd Skynyrd bumper sticker had a taillight out.
Erika Schmidt Russell is editor of The Journal-Press and The Dearborn County Register.